Show Details

Supernova Rock Art

June 27, 2006

An ancient rock carving in New Mexico could be an astronomical record.


Pre-Columbian astronomers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the year 1006, a nearby star exploded, briefly becoming the brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon. Now, astronomers have found rock art in Arizona that might be an ancient record of that supernova. John Barentine of the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico says the design chipped into the rock is an eight-pointed star next to a wavy line that looks like a scorpion. The 1006 supernova would have appeared next to the constellation Scorpius.

JOHN BARENTINE (Apache Point Observatory):
And it turns out that in many parts of the world where you would find scorpions, that the figure of stars that we now call Scorpius was identified with that animal.

He says we can never be sure of the artist’s intentions, but chemical dating may resolve whether the rock art was in fact created a millennium ago. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.